First U.S. Minister to Denmark: Henry Wheaton

  • November 27, 2021
  • November 27, 2023
  • 3 sessions
  • November 27, 2021 (CST)
  • November 27, 2022 (CST)
  • November 27, 2023 (CST)

FIRST U.S. MINISTER TO DENMARK - HENRY WHEATON

Henry Wheaton (November 27, 1785 – March 11, 1848) was a United States lawyerjurist and diplomat.  He was the third reporter of decisions for the United States Supreme Court, the first U.S. minister to Denmark, and the second U.S. minister to Prussia.

He was born at Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Brown University (then called Rhode Island College) in 1802, was admitted to the bar in 1805, and, after two years' study abroad in Poictiers and London, practiced law at Providence (1807-1812) and at New York City (1812-1827).  From 1812 to 1815, he edited National Advocate, the organ of the administration party. There he published notable articles on the question of neutral rights in connection with the then-existing war with England. On 26 October 1814, he became division judge advocate of the army.  He was a justice of the Marine Court of New York City from 1815 to 1819.

From 1816 to 1827, he edited reports of the Supreme Court, as the third Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. Aided by Justice Joseph Story, his reports were known for their comprehensive notes and summaries of the arguments presented by each side. However, the volumes were slow in appearing and costly. Wheaton's successor Richard Peters condensed his work, and Wheaton sued him, claiming infringement of his common-law copyright. The Supreme Court rejected his claim in Wheaton v. Peters in 1834, which was the Court's first copyright case.

He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1820.  He was elected a member of the convention to form a new constitution for New York in 1821, was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co.) in 1824, and in 1825 was associated with John Duer and Benjamin F. Butler in a commission to revise the statute law of New York. He also took part in important cases, and was the sole associate of Daniel Webster in that which settled the limits of the state and federal legislation in reference to bankruptcy and insolvency.  In 1825, he aided in the revision of the laws of New York.

His diplomatic career began in 1827, with an appointment to Denmark as chargé d'affaires. He served until 1835, displaying skill in the settlement of the sound dues that were imposed by Denmark on the vessels of all countries, and obtained modifications of the quarantine regulations. He was noted for his research into the Scandinavian language and literature, and was elected a member of Scandinavian and Icelandic societies.  In 1829, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

In 1835 he was appointed minister to Prussia, being promoted to minister plenipotentiary in 1837. He soon received full power to conclude a treaty with the Zollverein, which he pursued for the next six years. On 25 March 1844, he signed a treaty with Germany, for which he received high commendation from President Tyler and John C. Calhoun, the secretary of state. This was rejected by the U.S. Senate but served as the basis for subsequent treaties. He was made a corresponding member of the French Institute in 1843, and a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin in 1846.

Other issues Wheaton dealt with during his diplomatic career were Scheldt dues, the tolls on the Elbe, and the rights of naturalized citizens. In 1846 Wheaton was requested to resign as Prussian minister by the new president, Polk, who needed his place for another appointment. The request provoked general condemnation, but Wheaton resigned and returned to the United States.

He was called at once to Harvard Law School as lecturer on international law, but illness prevented his acceptance.  He died at Dorchester, Massachusetts, on 11 March 1848. - Wikipedia


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